The people trying to restore St Annes to its former glory

We meet the people working to return this Fylde coastal town to its former glory. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON AND JOHN COCKS

During the Victorian era St Annes was a booming seaside town. The attraction of its picture postcard pier, vast beach and good hotels meant tourists flocked to the pretty coastal community.

No trip to the resort would have been complete without taking a dip. Anyone venturing into the water protected their modesty by using a bathing machine, a wooden structure that looked like a beach hut on wheels.

These machines evolved over the years until static beach huts lined the shore at St Annes. Sadly, by the 1980s their poor state of repair meant they were demolished. Now, there is one couple bringing them back.Stuart and Zoe Robertson have been trying for seven years to build the colourful huts on the seafront. Recently the couple, who both grew up in the area, got their wish when they were granted planning permission for 45 beach huts.

Zoe, general manager and director of The Dalmeny Hotel, said: ‘It’s something I thought of when I was walking along the front. They are a part of the history of St Annes beach and to have them back again will be fantastic.’

The luxurious structures, which come with a kitchen, electricity, a nautical-themed interior, its own deck and access to private showers and toilets, will cost from �36,000 to buy or �4,500 to lease each year. The huts will also be available for short term rent through the hotel. The first show hut is already built and the couple have already had more than 300 enquiries from potential buyers.

Stuart said: ‘We are hoping that the huts will bring more people here and help regenerate some parts of the town and take it back to its Victorian splendour.

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‘The view of the beach from them is unbeatable.’

St Annes is also part of the Lytham 20/20 Vision regeneration project. Several schemes like the redevelopment of Ashton Gardens and the refreshing of the town’s streets and railway station have already taken place. But there are further plans to redevelop important areas. The historic Promenade Gardens will be restored to how they would have looked during the Victorian era.

At the already popular Fairhaven Lake there are also ambitious proposals. These include reintroducing sailing boats on the water and a new footbridge running from the outer promenade to the central island which will feature an adventure playground. There are also plans to revive a former Japanese water garden.

St Annes will also be part of a new Ribble Coast and Wetlands Regional Park. It is hoped the project, which is still in its early stages, will transform the estuary between the Fylde and Southport into an internationally significant wetland habitat.

The aim is for more wildlife to be attracted to the estuary and for coastal trails to be established. There are also plans to work towards St Annes following Southport and becoming a Classic Resort, an accreditation system which would show the quality on offer in the town.

Colin Busby, regeneration officer for Fylde council, said: ‘There are already many good things that are already working to bring more people here. But there are still many more exciting developments to happen.‘St Annes is already a beautiful place but we want to make it even better. We have ambitious plans but we can do it.’

A number of events are also being held and planned to help boost visitor numbers further. For the past few weeks Fairhaven Lake has been one of the locations used as part of the Revealed Festival. A series of eight transparent bubbles were either suspended above or sat on the lake water. Visitors could either watch from the lakeside or get up close in a rowing boat. The festival included more than 30 events to catch the eyes of The Open viewers as well as a worldwide audience. There were also smaller events to entertain passers-by and shoppers.

Staff at St Annes On Sea Town Council are also working to establish events in the town including a new music and arts festival in September.Sarah Tatton, community development officer, said: ‘There were many exciting things happening around the time of The Open which would have made people aware of how lovely St Annes can be.

‘With the music and art festival it is giving something back to the local community but also giving those visitors another reason to come back.’